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Cool, Random, History Stuff!

Presenting those little pieces of really cool information that makes you realize maybe history isn't so boring after all!

Being a complete history nerd nothing pleases me more than coming across a new way to glimpse the past; one that helps me relate to it in a more familiar way, or that brings an event closer to a time that I can relate to personally.

I can always tell when I am affected in this way because it usually results in a very audible "Cool."

Sometimes this happens when what I view as a modern technology allows me to access something that I have always viewed as the distant past, or when I realize that someone I know, or have known, or has been prominent during my lifetime, was also alive when some momentous event occurred in the past, or when I think of how far the United States advances in the lifetime of just one person.

Sometimes it just boggles my mind...in a fun way of course.

With that in mind, and in no particular order, here is some really neat, random history stuff that makes me say "cool" out loud!

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It is still possible to visit the exact spot where the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years War) actually started. Called Jumonville Glen, it is located in Fayette County, PA and looks exactly as it did in 1754 when a young Major George Washington inadvertently precipitated events that ultimately resulted in what Winston Churchill called "the first world war."

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John Paul Jones, the famous American naval hero of the Revolution, who during his epic battle with the British warship HMS Serapis, uttered one of the most famous quotes in American military history - "I have not yet begun to fight" - later fought in the service of Empress Catherine II of Russia, retired to France, died there in 1792, was buried in the royal St. Louis Cemetery in Paris that was eventually forgotten, then sold, and later became a dumping ground for dead animals. In 1905, former Union General Horace Porter located the site of the cemetery and eventually what was believed to be the the mummified remains of John Paul Jones. To identify the body experts compared it to a statue of Jones done in life by famous sculpture Jean-Antoine Houdon. He was eventually reinterred at the Naval Academy in Annapolis after a ceremony presided over by Theodore Roosevelt. But...did they get the right body? Well...you can judge for yourself. Compare the mummy found in 1905 with the Houdon statue and see what you think.

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The 8th President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, who was elected in 1836, is the first President who was born a United States citizen. Up until that time all Presidents were born subjects of either King George II or King George III of Great Britain.

Ironically, Van Buren is the only President in U.S. history for whom English was a second language. He was born in Kinderhook, a Dutch speaking community in New York and primarily spoke Dutch as a youth.

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John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, was born in Charles City County, Virginia in 1790, two years after the adoption of the United States Constitution, and one year before the Bill of Rights went into effect. As of December 2012, 222 years after his birth, two of President Tyler's grandchildren are still alive. Think of that, two men are alive today, who are only two generations removed from a time before freedom of speech was a protected right in the United States.

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As of September 2012 the Veteran's Administration is still paying two Civil War Pensions.

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There are about 50 children of Civil War veterans still alive.

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The last known widow of a Union Civil War veteran died in 2003, and the last known Confederate widow died in 2008.

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Unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers are still being uncovered from time to time. In early 1997 when construction of the Centreville McDonalds was about to begin, six Civil War soldiers graves were uncovered. Eventually identified as Union soldiers from Massachusetts, they were reinterred there in 2006.

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On April 14, 1865 5-year old Sammy Seymour of Maryland traveled to Washington DC to visit family friends. Upon arriving he was told "Sammy, you and I and Sarah are going to a play - a real play. And President Abraham Lincoln will be there."  As we know Lincoln was assassinated at that play. Samuel Seymour was the last surviving witness of that event. You can see and hear him here on a 1956 episode of "I've Got a Secret."

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The first known photograph of a person, taken in 1838.

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The earliest President to have his photograph taken was 6th President John Quincy Adams, son of 2nd President John Adams, taken in 1843 fourteen years after he left office.

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The earliest photograph of a sitting President was of 11th President, James K. Polk, taken in 1849.

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The earliest First Lady to have their photograph taken was Dolley Madison, wife of 4th President James Madison.

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And, a photograph taken in front of the White House probably in 1849. In the middle President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah, at the far left future President James Buchanan, and standing, slightly blurred to the right of Polk, former First Lady Dolley Madison.

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One of the most important poets in American history was Walt Whitman. Born in 1819 he produced one of the most influential and controversial collections of poetry of the 19th century, "Leaves of Grass," first published in 1855, and continually revised by Whitman up to his death in 1892. During the Civil War he served as a nurse in Union army hospitals. One of poems contained in "Leaves of Grass" is called "America" ...and in a very rare recording, you can hear Whitman himself recite the first four lines of it here.

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Born in 1833, Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States, and a grandson of the 9th President, William Henry Harrison. Harrison is the earliest President whose voice was recorded...and you can listen to it here.

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On January 1, 1863, a proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln declared that "...all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." While this did not free all the slaves, and did not guarantee slavery would not survive the war, it was the watershed moment in the eventual abolition of slavery. It changed the character of the war from one solely about restoring the union, to one in which the freedom of a whole race was at stake, and it made passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution banning slavery possible. In the 1930s the Works Progress Administration (WPA), tracked down as many ex-slaves as they could, and interviewed them for posterity. Listen here to former slave Charlie Martin who was 21 when freedom came, describe his life after emancipation.

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How cool would it be if a satellite orbiting the earth were able to look down on Hispaniola or Cuba, and see the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria exactly where Christopher Columbus anchored them, and in exactly the same shape they were in when they arrived?

Well of course that can't happen, but something very much like it has happened on the moon. Human beings visited the moon six times. Where they landed and worked are perfectly preserved historic sites, in almost the exact condition they were in when those astronauts left them behind.

With the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009 we are now able to see those sites for the first time since they were abandoned in 1972. Go here to see the site of that last visit, Apollo 17. You can see the descent stage of the Lunar Module, equipment left behind by the astronauts, the flag planted at the site, and the footprint paths left by the astronauts themselves....all perfectly preserved.

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Cool!!!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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